Top 5 Toronto Maple Leafs Players Who Benefit Most From Break

Toronto Maple Leafs - Auston Matthews (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Toronto Maple Leafs - Auston Matthews (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /
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Some Toronto Maple Leafs players will return firing on all cylinders.

When the Toronto Maple Leafs return to the ice, they won’t be the same team who stopped playing in March.

They’re going to be better.

Not only will the team be getting several players back from injury, reinforcements in the way of an expanded roster, and their first full training camp under Sheldon Keefe, they will also a new outlook and something to prove after the extended pause in play.

The following players in particular, for one reason or another, should see tremendous benefit from either the break or the training camp period, set to commence in just a couple of weeks.

5. Jake Muzzin

Sidelined with injury a couple of times this season, Jake Muzzin should return at true, 100% health for the first time since the season began.

Muzzin has established himself as the Toronto Maple Leafs best defender, and a core piece of what will hopefully be a contending roster for the next several years.

He’s also now 31 years old, so he has reached the back half of his career. Injuries are going to take longer to heal and leave a lasting effect on the body as time rolls on, so having a Jake Muzzin who’s at 100% and as fresh as he’d be at the start of a season is a very good thing indeed.

4. Auston Matthews

It’s a shame that Auston Matthews’ surefire 50-goal season and chance at breaking Rick Vaive’s single season goal record was interrupted, but lest we forget that this career-high season was made even more impressive by the fact that Matthews played a significant amount of time (and sat out of the All-Star Game) with a wrist injury.

We’re long past the stage of that minor injury being fully healed at this point, so mentioning it is almost a moot point.

However, another thing to consider is that Matthews always comes into new seasons, which this basically is after so long away from the ice, firing bombs (like this one against their opponents-to-be in Colombus). R.I.P. to the save percentages of both Korpisalo and Merzlikens.

3. Mitch Marner

Mitch Marner’s gone through a lot in the last 15 months or so.

The entire contract negotiation nightmare, and the borderline character assassination he went through in both the Toronto sports media and social media circuits is all in the past now, sure, but we sometimes underestimate the mental toll that kind of constant bashing takes on someone so young, who is clearly very in-tune to the social media era.

Marner hasn’t been himself for much of the season. Granted, he missed 11 games due to injury, and still put up 67 points, good for second place in overall scoring among the Toronto Maple Leafs, but something seemed off in his demeanor and attitude at times.

Quite possibly, it was the pressure of having to live up to the big contract he was awarded, something I wouldn’t blame him for feeling at all.

But now, it’s a fresh slate, the break will be just as long as a normal offseason by the time play resumes, it’s an opportunity for him to reset himself mentally and go into the play-in round as if it’s a brand-new season.

2. Frederik Andersen

It took a worldwide pandemic for Freddy Andersen to get some damn rest. He’s been overworked since he arrived in Toronto, due to a lack of competent backup options (Curtis McElhinney and, now, Jack Campbell notwithstanding), and that heavy workload has cost them in the postseason thus far.

The only reason he’s not #1 on this list is because there’s the unfortunate possibility that he’ll show up to the hub city as the “October” version of himself, when he’s not completely dialed in to the flow of play yet and that often leads to some questionable performances.

1. Morgan Rielly and Ilya Mikheyev

I’m cheating here by awarding the top spot here to two players, but hear me out.

Both Rielly and Mikheyev missed significant time due to injuries. Mikheyev had just begun skating again when the season was halted, while Rielly returned long enough to play a single game.

As I’ve mentioned several times, the resumption of play is a fresh start for the players. The training camp process will eliminate the “easing back” period that often occurs with players returning from injury, and both should jump into the series with the Blue Jackets operating at full speed.

Their respective absences made it clear, the Toronto Maple Leafs play better with both of these guys in the lineup.

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The sum effects that the break will have on all of the players mentioned above will elevate the Toronto Maple Leafs from a good team to a great team, mark my words.